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+4 votes
I'm curious as to what you as Anarchists, as well as what other Anarchists whose work you've read, think about scientific medicine. Is it good, bad, neutral? Is it all a state/Capitalist scheme?
by (740 points)
My honest comment is that it is complicated.

much of the body of 'modern' medicine, is conflicted by the necessity of 'independant' researchers to ensure continuing funding for their research - (usually by upholding a narrative found profitable by certain stakeholders in 'Big Pharma'...)

But, at the heart of much of modern western 'medicine', lies the practice of 'kill everything - and then hope the body can heal itself'.
Anti-biotics, excise surgery, chemo-'therapy', radiation 'therapy'; - every one of these 'therapies',  reduces to the principle of:  'kill everything - and then hope the body can heal itself'.
To many of us, this speaks for itself.
absolutely- but for me the issue i have is the very detached attitude that doctors have from their patients, they are masters of our body and want to help us...but in the most inhuman way possible

i feel that these things we say resemble attitudes as well as positions or stances
Interesting point regarding the likely bias of so called 'independent' researchers'. Medical science is one thing, but it exists in our society as an industry like any other, with all the usual attached corruption and exploitation.
This could perhaps be an example of the distinction between 'in authority' and 'an authority', in our society doctors are often seen as being 'in authority' largely due to the lack of widespread medical understanding in the general public and due to the hierarchical nature of most hospital settings. Perhaps this could be resolved with more 'Anarchist' doctors, free from the state and capitalist demand for you money or taxes etc, doctors who are part of our communities as well as being there to help with medical assistance.
yeah, the whole medical question troubles me because medicine does help people live their lives without incredible pain or seems to fix some of our society's ignorance of the body. Right now i can't do a whole lot cuz i have what is probably a pinched nerve...i went to an urgent care facility and the doctor said when i was talking to him "your massage therapist doesn't know a 10th of what i know", however he prescribed me with a topical lotion to treat the pain when clearly i have nerve flammation deep under the skin...idiot! Luckily i have medicaid...even though im still not sure what im actually paying for in the future!

it would be sufficient if the doctors didn't look at their patients as if they were stupid and understood that they didn't know everything either...the other thing is that when someone has a terminal illness doctors are pretty much nihilists these days. They just think "well...your fucked! might as well spend my time with patients who have a REAL chance of living." Most doctors just seem to be beaurocrats these days

"it exists in our society as an industry like any other, with all the usual attached corruption and exploitation."

this is what I was thinking. the medicine you refer to exists in a certain economic and hierarchy framework that it would not be able to stand independently of. the fact that I have so many issues with that framework, I don't feel the benefits to be outweighed by the negative consequences of that framework, not to mention the negative consequences of the medical practice.

4 Answers

+5 votes

For me, perhaps the largest issue is that technological medicine is one, if not the largest, of polluters contributing to ecocide on the planet. It's a vast uncontrolled experiment, really, and hardly anyone desires to talk about it, most definitely not the corporate media. However, even 'alternative' media is mostly silent given the anthropocentrism of most leftist politics. For instance, the focus on fracking, while obviously a huge problem, doesn't carry around with it the weight of 'rights,' (such as health care in general, but also, say, contraception) which the pollutants of techno-medicine do.

There is some talk of the many pharmaceuticals which cannot be scrubbed out of or broken down in waste water, examples being antibiotics, psych-meds, birth-control, statins, bronchodilators, muscle relaxants, etc, but also personal care products, such as shampoos, deodorants, perfumes and sunscreens. All are going into our ecosystems and manufactured by the same industrial culprits. There's another, less discussed, component to this as most people only think in human terms  Rarely are the pharmaceuticals used in veterinary medicine mentioned. Not only the technology and medicines for pets, but also, for instance, those used in cattle on 'open range' and ending up directly on the ground and into the soil and streams.

(One aspect of these 'wild' pharmaceuticals which pertains to my region, and thus me particularly, is the use of this waste water in the snow-making process of 91% of ski-resorts in the western US...all of it eventually flowing downhill from the bro-infested snowboarding courses directly into streams and rivers. But hey, they voted for Obama and perhaps listen to NPR or--gasp!-- Democracy Now! on occasion.)

Perhaps worse still, are the radioactive wastes produced by and for the medical industry. In fact, I read recently that the primary uses of radioactive materials indeed are medical. In addition to mining of these materials, itself producing a great deal of waste, we have everything from the manufacture of new and disposal of old x-ray machines (many of the latter end up in 'third world' countries), to radio-pharmaceuticals (ex. tracers), to irradiated medical disposables and lab supplies...all  made possible by way of nuclear reactors and particle accelerators. It's all really big and with the 'outta sight, outta mind' mentality fostered by schools, politics and media, it remains the largely invisible behemoth in front of us all.

While this anarchist understands that modern technological medicine has aided and saved some individual lives, there are several questions which need to be addressed, such as: how many of these ailments have been due to the very pollutants the medical industry (not too mention industrial society at large) has produced? Another question may pertain to how anarchists feel and think about having such a vast, uncontrolled experiment foisted upon them without their input and as the conditions within which they must live their very lives!

Edited to add:

Then one needs to see how techno-medicine enmeshes, grafts, itself to and within other institutions, such as work, in order to keep shit moving along, reinforcing, and normalizing what our ancestors (Luddites, etc) knew to be enslavement and denigration through another means.

by (7.5k points)
edited by
great answer, the biggest question i always ask myself is how long will those who control large portions of the economy remain healthy enough to do it? I guess JZ's 3015 robot will have it's chance...will the last cyborg who can feel something save us?! *mega man x music*

i didn't know that people skiied on pharma drugs....comi-tragic i guess
I want to fight anybody who insists that [more or less] the entirety of modern medicine needs to be destroyed and I also want to fight anybody who insists that modern medicine is implicitly a "good"/positive/desirable thing overall.

But generally speaking I feel a lot of the things outlined in AmorFati's answer.
spot on, af!
It must also be noted that those radioactive elements are not digging themselves out of the ground(to be flippant), I dread to think of all the lives destroyed by the working conditions and radioactive waste of those being exploited by whatever company is producing this stuff.
i don't think anyone here denies the social facet in emphasizing the very basic conditions/relations of living in Earth. digging this shit out of the ground has consequences. it doesn't matter if we 'explain' the cause of sicknesses associated with, say, uranium, through the technical languages of scientific 'explanation' by way (sub)atomic interactions or of a particular Diné on a summer's day saying the sickness was due to a particular rock being dug up rather than being born upon the open ground. no matter what i'm eaten alive. sick is sick. how do we tell the tale? where? when?

"For instance, the focus on fracking, while obviously a huge problem, doesn't carry around with it the weight of 'rights,' (such as health care in general, but also, say, contraception) which the pollutants of techno-medicine do."

actually, this is not entirely true. as some counties in the southwestern us (and maybe other places) pass laws banning fracking, the industry (and the individuals with land and the desire to make money off that land) is mounting major legal battles based on rights. primarily, the right to make money. on the other side, is the argument of the folks who claim a right to clean groundwater and air.

let's see: the right to health, vs the right to make money. wonder who wins that one. it's like a case study out of the wto/imf playbook, only domestic.

f@, i see where you're coming from, i think, and perhaps i wasn't quite clear enough. the part of my answer you're responding to references the anthropocentrism of 'alternative,' that is left-leaning, media.  rights-based arguments for and against fracking are anthropocentric; the right to make money or have clean air/water springs from the same source in terms of their anthropocentrism.

where i am coming from is that fracking isn't quite as enveloped in so many other hot-button political issues (contraception, mental health, obesity, etc) as is the reality of med-pollution within 'public' discourse and opinion. in fact, fracking more than likely may be enveloped within, or at least overlaps, med-pollution given the extensive use of plastics in techno-medicine, for example.

btw, texas has just rendered all local opposition to fracking moot by way of state mandate overriding all local, community-based bans on the practice. i expect this will become the trend, particularly in the western US as oil becomes increasingly difficult to obtain.

thanks for clarifying about anthropocentrism, af. that got lost on me. 

Regarding the last bit, Monkey wrench?
anarcho-goth, what does this comment mean?
My apologies, it was a reference to the practice of monkeywrenching, and the book, the Monkey wrench gang. The act of sabotaging industrial machinery and equipment and general direct action against industrial infrastructure in order to prevent environmental destruction.
+3 votes
Modern medicine has become a physical science separated from healing.  Doctors dis-integrate their patients and attempt to treat medical problems in an atomic way. In the long run this just can't work. Most medical problems require a type of healing the re-integrates us. Exactly the opposite of what modern medicine does. Psychiatry exists as some kind of stop-gap, but that doesn't nearly solve the problem and ultimately probably just creates more issues.

Now, there's lots of other ways to get healed. Hanging out and bullshitting with friends, making love, introspection, time in nature...these things all bring healing. Still I can't help but think there's a really significant type of healing we've almost completely lost when we allowed our healers to become scientists.

I don't know if there's anything particularly anarchist about this view, but you asked for it. One connection is that the move in our society allowing medicine to go this way has interesting parallels with our acceptance of court systems to resolve problems, police to enforce rules, and a political class to represent our interests. And it's probably just as dangerous.
by (560 points)
edited by
An excellent answer.

The difference between industrial 'medicine' and actual healing, is telling.

The Parallels you list are entirely valid.  (I fear we may be rubbing off on you ;)
–1 vote
It depends on what you mean by modern, scientific medicine.

The Scientific Method is a crowning achievement of humanity. When science is practiced correctly, it allows us to objectively view the universe and find ourselves closer to the truth.

Modern medicine has saved millions of lives and in an anarchist society, scientists and doctors would be able to flourish without the constraints of capitalism, statism and religion, all of which can, and do, try to remove objectivity from the equation.

We can see this in medicine today, with the influence of large pharmaceutical companies, who perform biased trials and try to influence doctors, for instance. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are another worrying development, and yet certain organised religions try desperately to undermine the scientific consensus on the theory of evolution, which explains why bacteria become resistant to antibiotics in the first place.

As an animal liberationist and "veganarchist", I also see medicine being negatively influenced by speciesism. Performing torturous experiments on nonhuman animals is not only immoral, but unscientific, as nonhuman animals have different physiologies to humans, so drugs react in different ways with them. Moreover, given that the pharmaceutical industry creates 'me-too' drugs which do nothing to further medicine, many of these already purposeless experiments are even more purposeless.

And, in other scientific disciplines, for example climate science, we see fossil fuel companies trying desperately to undermine the science, for obvious reasons.

Conclusion: modern medicine is good, but imperfect. Many of its imperfections are due to the system we live in today.
by (140 points)
SF, you relativist, you.;-) you just showed us how 'benefit' and 'harm' are adjudged precisely by way of the circumstances, perspectives, of those adjudging and the relations within which those judgements are made! thanks!

there is no 'harm' or 'benefit' outside of circumstance, condition, relationships, qualities, etc., no more than there is 'good' and 'evil' or a non-conditional 'The Scientific Method' that 'humanity' groped for through endless dark ages until 'we' got hold of it as some 'crowning achievement.'

if the proof is in the pudding, the wastes of civilization, the ecocide, are marks against it in my estimation even if today we live slightly longer far more boring lives than our pre-civilized ancestors. i, for one, think this will be a flash in the pan though, compared to much longer period derided as 'pre-history.'
on a personal note, i haven't gone to a doctor in about 30 years, despite twice feeling i had arrived at death's door.

and three different family members of mine have died in the past few months despite taking multiple medications and visiting doctors and hospitals on a regular basis.

i don't know what that means about my "perspective on modern scientific medicine"...but that shit happened.
Okay, AmorFati, I think that actually answers my question. You seem to be saying that the benefit is not real because there is harm when viewed from another perspective. (Although I'll point out that this undercuts all the arguments that have been mad so far about the harms of science and medicine, since there are also benefits when viewed from another perspective.)

I don't think the harm is unreal or that the benefit is unreal or that they cancel each other out or anything like that. The harm is real (the fact that it only becomes apparent in our linear language when we describe it in a certain context doesn't mean that it's not always there and always real). The benefit is also real. These things co-exist.
i didn't read AF's comment that way at all (real vs. not real), SF.  i find it interesting how differently we interpreted it.

i liked both of your answers to this question, btw.
i still think you're swinging and missing, SF. i can only see 'modern scientific medicine' as 'harmful' overall. why? because the very conditions, the web of all life, not just this life my own, not just human life, are threatened irrevocably. i can only speak from here, this place, as 'my' self. i am intimately connected to and participating in relationships of which i'm barely aware, if at all most of the time, which cannot be apprehended in terms of 'modern science,'  the latter of which is most definitely based in the quantification, fragmentation, alienation, exploitation, reification, domination, etc., upon which all industrialized civilization is based.

this 'harm' is not an unattached, abstract notion distanced 'out there' as a universal truth, idea, 'good.' it's as close to me as the creek i cannot kneel to drink from like those before me, only a few generations ago, prior to US conquest. i start from the pudding i can taste, smell, hear, not a quest for some 'proof-in' the pudding. the meaning of 'harm' in this sense spirals out as i augment 'my' self with every quality and relationship of which i'm able.

in sum, modern scientific medicine. to say that it can be another way is to deny its very raison d'etre which is to continue the anthropocentric, Eurocentric, presuppositions upon which it is based and through which it perpetuates itself. one simply cannot extract 'modern scientific medicine' from the very worldview through which it is manifest and the industries and institutions which make it possible, no more so than an ancap can extricate 'the market' from the state, colonialism, religion, genocide, slavery. actually, the extricated ancap 'market' and your 'modern scientific medicine' pretty much have the same bases.

i don't mean this as an insult. it's how i see it.

edit for extra thoughts.
+1 vote
Medicine as a system or enterprise in the West is a state sponsored religion. Surprisingly, even anarchists accept medicine as is without questioning it's purpose to maintain social control and current state of things, methods of disabling autonomous action and thought, and forcing mass surrender to the power of the therapeutic state. There is no oversight over how much suffering and debility is caused directly or indirectly by medicine in the quest of doing good.
by (220 points)
You're not wrong about this, but you're also giving a pretty one-sided, definitive position on a pretty huge and complicated one and I'm gonna have to ask you to cash it out more.